Calif. sheriff moves to cancel SRO contract over low staffing

"It's not about money, it's about bodies," said Sheriff Donny Youngblood

By Emma Gallegos
The Bakersfield Californian

KERN COUNTY, Calif. — Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said the Kern County Sheriff's Office has requested to cancel its contracts with school districts where deputies serve as school resource officers due to understaffing.

"It's simple and boils down to the fact that we don't have staff," he said. "We don't have enough staff for local patrol."

Youngblood said deputies will still be available when schools need them.

"I don't want the public think that we're not going to be there," he said. "It's not about money, it's about bodies."

The Board of Supervisors will consider a request from the Sheriff's Office to terminate its agreements with six local school districts at its Tuesday morning meeting.

The department currently has contracts with Greenfield Union, Standard, Taft City and Edison elementary school districts. It also has contracts with Wasco Union High and Taft Union High school districts.

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The school districts all had contracts for one school resource officer each through June or July. Each contract contains clauses indicating they can be canceled with 90 days' notice. The Sheriff's Office has asked the board to approve Jan. 30 as the end date.

Paul Meyers, superintendent of Standard School District, said he was notified in September that these contracts would be canceled. He met with Sgt. Adam Pugge on Oct. 11, and he explained that the staffing shortages had led the department to this point.

"We will miss having an SRO, and I hope that this current staffing issue at KCSO is temporary," Meyers wrote in an email.

Wasco Union High is currently looking into what would be required for the district to hire its own school resource officer, according to Superintendent Robert Cobb.

Canceling contracts with schools is about making sure that resources in an understaffed organization are used wisely, said Youngblood. His first priority is making sure a deputy is available in communities to respond to 9-1-1 calls.

"Would you rather have a deputy in Ridgecrest at 3 a.m or at a school during the day?" he said.

He noted that Frazier Park recently lost a deputy to COVID-19 and has not been able to replace him. Rosamond used to have 15 or 16 deputies and now is in the single digits, he said.

Meyers said that Standard's school resource officer, Deputy Gilberto Valladolid, performed a wide variety of duties on the district's campuses. "Deputy Val" did everything from providing security and deterring uninvited individuals from coming on campus to serving as a resource on safety procedures such as lockdowns, according to Meyers.

"We have enjoyed the benefits of the SRO's training, knowledge and expertise in handling situations, and an SRO is sometimes invited to speak in classrooms to students," he said.

Youngblood said a big part of the school resource officer program is mentorship as well as aiding campus security.

"We feel terrible," Youngblood said. "We hope in the future we can go back."

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(c)2021 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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